George Washington Papers

To George Washington from James Nicholson, 13 February 1790

From James Nicholson

Febry 13th 1790


pursuant to the request of Doctr Morrow I take the liberty of inclosing to your Excellency this Petition1 and will at any time with pleasure if needed give you any information that has come to my Knowledge Relative to his Character, integrity, and abilities.2 I remain with the greatest respect your Excellency⟨’s⟩ most Obedient Humbe servt &ca.

James Nicholson


1David Morrow was apparently a native of Maryland. In the summer of 1776 Morrow sought appointment as a surgeon for Maryland troops, but before receiving word of his appointment, he accepted the post of naval surgeon under James Nicholson (Md. Archives, description begins Archives of Maryland. 72 vols. Baltimore, 1883–1972. description ends 12:132, 245, 289). Morrow served with the army in the winter of 1776–77 when Nicholson’s crew formed an artillery unit while awaiting the completion of the frigate Virginia. Morrow was captured along with that ship and most of her crew in 1778 and after his parole served under Nicholson aboard the frigate Trumbull. He was captured along with the Trumbull and her crew in 1781. After the war Morrow settled in Port Royal, Virginia. His undated petition, enclosed by Nicholson, reads: “The Memorial of David Morrow late Surgeon in the Continental Navy—at present an Inhabitant of the Town of Port Royal in Virginia.

“Most Respectfully sheweth, that He the said David Morrow served in the Winter 1776–77 as a Volunteer Surgen to a Core of Artillery composed of the Officers and Men belonging to the Navy, under the Command of Captains Nicholson, Read, Alexander, &c.

“In Aprile 1777 He was appointed to the Virgini⟨a⟩ Frigate commanded by Capt. James Nicholson, He continued in said Ship, until she was taken. after which He was Prisoner on Parole Nine Months.

“In 1779 He was appointed to the Trumbull Frigate, under the same Commander continued aborard said Ship, until she was taken, after which He was detain’d a Prisoner aboard the Prison Ship, and on Long Island, five Months for the Veracity of which he begs leave to appeal to Capt. James Nicho⟨lson⟩.

“your Memorialist takes the liberty further to mention that He has been constantly engaged in His profession, for Twenty four years.

“your Memorialist encouraged by the before recited Pretensions and hopeing He can give satisfaction as to His moral Conduct—most respectfully offers Himself as Physician, or Surgeon, (which ever it may be call’d in the appointment) to the Virginia Marine Hospital.

“Hopeing for the Appointment (if ⟨no⟩ Person better qualifyed should offer) your Memorialist as in duty bound shall ever Pray and so forth” (DLC:GW). Morrow apparently was prompted to apply for the position by the recent completion of the marine hospital building at Norfolk. On 20 Dec. 1787 the Virginia legislature had passed “an Act for establishing a marine hospital for the reception of aged and disabled seamen,” appropriating money for the building of the hospital at Norfolk (12 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 494–95). Commissioners appointed to superintend the construction contracted for the completion of the hospital by the end of November 1789 (Calendar of Virginia State Papers, description begins William P. Palmer et al., eds. Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts. 11 vols. Richmond, 1875–93. description ends 5:130). Meanwhile Congress considered the establishment of federal marine hospitals. On 20 July 1789 the House appointed a committee “to bring in a bill or bills, providing for the establishment of sick and disabled seamen, and for the regulation of harbours.” The committee brought in a bill on 27 Aug. 1789, but the House postponed action on the bill until the next session (DHFC, description begins Linda Grant De Pauw et al., eds. Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, March 4, 1789-March 3, 1791. 20 vols. to date. Baltimore, 1972–. description ends 3:171, 172). Virginia authorities apparently believed that the federal government would soon pass a hospital bill and purchase the new hospital building from the state (see Edward Archer to GW, 21 Sept. 1789). The last session of the First Congress failed to take up the matter, however, and the establishment of federal marine hospitals was not fully authorized until the passage of “An Act for the relief of sick and disabled Seamen” in July 1798 (1 Stat., description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 605–7). Morrow received no appointment from GW.

2A letter to Edmund Pendleton dated at Port Royal, Va., on 20 Jan. 1790 and signed by a group of Port Royal citizens also supported Morrow’s application: “Doctor David Morrow of this town informs me he understands no person is yet appointed to the Office of Doctor of the Marine Hospital at Norfolk, and that he wishes to be recommended to the Honorable the President of the United States as a person qualifyed for that Office. Doctor Morrow has applyed to us (as well acquanted with him for several years past) to recommend him to our worthy representative John Page Esquire, But as some of us have not the least personal acquantance with that Honorable and much respected Gentleman, Will you be so obliging as to vouch for us to him? You know us well, & we flatter our selves you can certify to Mr Page that he may put confidence in what we put our names to.

“We are Informed Doctor Morrow served his Country during the war as Surgeon in the Continental Navy, that he can make appear. We know he has lived in Port Royal about five years, in which time he has practised physick & surgery with much reputation: He has also behaved in other respects like a Gentleman & we believe him a worthy member of society” (DLC:GW).

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